Time for Wetland Restoration | Sunday Observer
World Wetlands Day

Time for Wetland Restoration

5 February, 2023

Sri Lanka has an abundance of wetlands, including well-known ones such as Muthurajawela and Bellanwila. Wetlands are unique habitats that combine the best of life on land, water and air. Indeed, as Dr. Musonda Mumba, Secretary General, Convention on Wetlands, notes, “wherever land meets water, life abounds”.

Wetlands exist in every corner of our planet and are the arteries and veins of the landscape. They are a sight to behold and worthy of celebration. World Wetlands Day (WWD) is celebrated each year on February 2. The Day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. This is the first year when the World Wetlands Day will be observed as a United Nations International Day, following its adoption by the UN General Assembly on August 30, 2021 by most Member States.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, fully named Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat, was signed in the city of Ramsar 52 years ago. Its secretariat is at IUCN Headquarters in Switzerland, and UNESCO is the Depository Organization for signatory States.

The WWD commemoration raises awareness and increases people’s understanding of the critical importance of wetlands which support critical ecosystems and biodiversity. In fact, 40 percent of all plant and animal species live or breed in the wetlands.

Rich and vital

Wetlands are rich in nature and vital to human and animal life. They are crucial to both agriculture and fisheries. They act as water sources, purifiers and protect the shores, although wetlands are not necessarily coastal. Wetlands are the planet’s greatest natural Carbon stores. Wetlands are of major ecological importance, with high biodiversity and a wide array of ecosystem services. They are also Nature’s solution for storm water buffering and flood control, water quality preservation and groundwater recharge, erosion protection, and provide nurseries for fish and other freshwater and marine animals, and carbon sequestration.

Raising global awareness, a must

To date, nearly 90 percent of the world’s wetlands have been degraded or lost and 35 percent of the world’s wetlands have been lost in the last 50 years alone (United Nations statistics). We are losing wetlands three times faster than tropical forests. Thus there is an urgent need to raise global awareness on wetlands to arrest and reverse their rapid loss and encourage actions to restore and conserve these vital ecosystems.

The 2,400 Ramsar wetland sites in the world are recognised as being of significant value not only for the country or the countries in which they are located, but for humanity as a whole. They cover over 2.5 million square kilometres, an area larger than Mexico. Bundala, Wilpattu, Kumana, Anavilundava, Vankalei, and Madu Ganga have been designated as national parks and sanctuaries of international importance as the main Ramsar Wetlands in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has been enforcing the Ramsar Convention since October 1990. Surprisingly, the United Kingdom has the largest number of Ramsar sites in the world (175), followed by Bolivia with 142, though it actually has the largest area under Ramsar protections (148,000 Sq Km), more than twice as large as the whole of Sri Lanka.

The WWD theme for this year is ‘Time for Wetland Restoration’. With only seven years left until 2030 for the world to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), time is of the essence. This tallies with the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a great opportunity for all to rethink and change how humans impact the environment - and a chance to restore vital ecosystems such as wetlands. Through activating all the relevant players from the schoolchilldren to key stakeholders, countries can mobilise an entire generation for wetland restoration. For World Wetlands Day 2023, the UN is calling on everyone to take action in three specific ways: Conscious choices to minimise our own impact on wetlands; Persuasive voices to educate and activate others to get involved in wetland conservation and restoration; Bold actions and taking part in wetland restoration efforts locally and globally.

Wetland restoration actions

Governments should ensure that wetland restoration actions are being implemented on the ground. According to the UN, three actions that can spearhead these restoration efforts include:Creating a national inventory of wetlands; Setting specific targets for wetland restoration; Promoting wise use of wetlands and good management practices. Anyone, anywhere can be a part of the solution by influencing change when it comes to wetland conservation and restoration.

One of the main obstacles to wetland conservation is the lack of knowledge about wetlands among local populations. If you ask an average person on the street to name even three of the Ramsar wetlands in Sri Lanka, he or she would be nonplussed. Similarly, they would not know about the benefits of maintaining the wetlands and also mangroves properly. Sadly, even the school curricula do not focus adequately on the wetlands and the importance of conserving them for future generations. This lacuna should be addressed without delay. If schoolchildren from primary grades onwards are taught about wetlands here and abroad, they will cultivate an affinity for these mini ecosystems. Field trips should be arranged to spur their interest in the wetlands.

Stern action needed

Moreover, stern action must be taken against those who intentionally or even unknowingly destroy wetlands which are vital for life on Earth. All countries must tighten their laws related to wetlands (such as laws against illegal reclamation and settlements) quite apart from the protections afforded by the Ramsar Convention.

But as stated above, everyone from a kindergarten child to a 90-year-old person can play a role in protecting and restoring the wetlands for posterity and for the health of the planet. This is in sync with the WWD 2023 theme of Time for Wetland Restoration. Tough laws can certainly help, but public participation in the process is even more vital. Our ecosystems could be in peril if we do not bring back the partially destroyed wetlands to their former glory. This should be the goal of all countries having Ramsar wetlands this year.